Pubdate: Sat, 06 Oct 2012
Source: Record Searchlight (Redding, CA)
Copyright: 2012 Record Searchlight


Authorities around California have been raiding medical marijuana 
gardens on private lands, saying the "excessive" size of the grows 
show they're not medicinal.

Investigators say the use of smaller, private illegal gardens are 
growing here in the north state, too.

"It's probably quadrupled in the last two years," said Sgt. Barry 
Powell, head of the Shasta County Marijuana Investigative Team.

He said it's also posing problems for investigators, who have to 
spend much more time to bust much smaller grows.

Even some medical marijuana growers in Shasta County say the size of 
the gardens does seem excessive, but remain divided on the tenuous 
relationship with local law enforcement.

In September, deputies in Trinity, Shasta and Butte counties raided 
multiple gardens where growers claimed protection under Proposition 
215, which amended California's Constitution to allow individuals to 
use marijuana to treat maladies if they have a doctor's recommendation.

In each case, local authorities said the size of the grows, 368 
plants at one Shasta County site, was excessive, allowing them to 
seize the property. "Say a subject can use 10 ounces of marijuana a 
year, and he's growing 99 plants, and his plants could yield two to 
four pounds," he said. "What happens with the remaining pounds? Cause 
those 99 plants will yield, with a two pound average... 200 pounds."

That's because the size of the grows, along with other factors, 
indicate the growers plan to sell the pot for cash illegally, either 
in California or elsewhere, Powell said.

Those arrested in Shasta and Trinity counties were arrested on 
suspicion of cultivating and possessing marijuana for sale, authorities said.

"All were cultivating under the guise of (Prop.) 215, which we 
determined during our interviews, during our investigation, were 
illegal," he said. One suspected grower, Ruben Gonzalez, 23, had 214 
plants for himself, Powell said.

Though California courts have ruled the government can't set limits 
on medical marijuana, Powell said the evidence shows these illegal 
growers intended to sell the pot illegally here or in other states.

That pushes the illegal growers out of Prop. 215's protection, Powell said.

The size of the grows are suspicious and likely indicate illegal 
grows, said Rick Levin, who was one of the first to successfully 
defend his grow under Proposition 215 in Shasta County. Levin, who 
grows marijuana to help with back pain, said most gardens don't have 
more than 99 plants because doing so would push the case into federal 
courts and carry stiffer sentences. He said one friend's grow 
involves nine people and only 56 plants.

Smaller gardens are also easier to tend, making them produce better 
quality medical marijuana, he said.

Rene Ward, a grower and manager of the 530 Collective in Shasta Lake, 
also said the grow seemed excessive for a medical marijuana.

Levin, however, cautioned that other aspects cited by Powell don't 
necessarily add up to a criminal enterprise.

Those other factors include the presence of guns, additional illegal 
drugs, and cash, said sheriff's investigators in Trinity County. 
There, sheriff's investigators worked with the Drug Enforcement 
Administration to raid six grow sites in September. All 14 growers 
claimed a Prop. 215 defense for the 406 plants and more than 150 
pounds of processed marijuana seized.

Investigators said they found four firearms, $180,000 and peyote at the sites.

Levin said many people in the north state own guns, and he's known 
several people who keep money stored in a safe.

"I've been a gun collector since I was 21 years old," Levin said. "I 
have a pension, income; I own my home. I meet the criteria."

However, he said he generally grows around nine plants for himself 
and a disabled friend.

Powell said Shasta County investigators raided another garden in 
Seaman Gulch on Sept. 24 were the suspected growers ran from 
investigators, he said.

During raids conducted the last week of September, investigators also 
found firearms possessed by felons, Powell said.

Powell said many of the alleged illegal growers move into California 
during the summer months and ship the pot to other states. Some are 
involved with cartels, he said

"There's a way that we determine if it's for personal use or for 
sales," Powell said.

But determining that on private land is much more difficult, Powell 
said. Grows on public land are flatly illegal -- but on private 
lands, investigators have to track down each person who has posted a 
recommendation at the site, interview them and verify their 
recommendations, along with the number of plants the doctor suggests, he said.

In addition, the smaller grows -- sometimes about 10 percent the size 
of the larger gardens on public land -- are more numerous.

"We've received probably hundreds to thousands of tips on citizens 
calling in suspicious activity. We just don't have the resources to 
investigate every one," he said. "I can probably get to only two 
percent of the tips."

Ward said deputies in Shasta Lake generally only show up for 
ordinance violations and are courteous. That includes a deputy who 
cited her medical marijuana grow for an alleged improperly locked gate.

"He said, 'You know, this is new, I'm not 100 percent familiar with 
this, but here's how I interpret it," she said.

Levin, however, said growers should always stand up for their rights 
when it comes to protecting gardens from law enforcement interference.

"We forgot what our bill of rights is," Levin said.
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